Wednesday, April 30, 2008

My life in France just improved by leaps and bounds!!!

I found normal-temperature pasturized milk in the refrigerated section today! Merci mille fois Monoprix! This is a happy girl here. I'm salivating over all the bowls of cereal and glasses of milk in my future. Of course it's super expensive, €1.20 per liter, which works out to about $7 per gallon, but this will be worth it. And since I finally had the pleasure of perusing the cereal aisle, I found all kinds of cool American cereals. Who would have thought that Golden Grahams are sold in France?

I feel like I'm being sent signs by the universe. First my carte vitale, now fresh milk, next up French boyfriend? Hmmm, wonder if that bus driver is still available... :P

Monday, April 28, 2008

How do you say "The bus driver hit on me today" and other random Welcome Back to France Stories

So I think one of the bus drivers was hitting on me today. There are some bus drivers who seem to know the entire city and are always chatting with someone on the bus. It makes sense, the conglomerate is only 50,000 people. The bus driver I had this afternoon coming back from one of my schools is one of those guys, so when he started chatting with me after the students all got off the bus (yeah, I'm the cool English teacher who rides the bus with her students!) I thought he was just being friendly. I thought maybe something was up when he asked me how old I am and told me how old he is (45, old enough to be my dad) and that he's here all alone too because his family lives in Nantes. Towards the end of the bus ride it started becoming more obvious. Like when asked if I had a boyfriend in France (btw, why is it always "in France?" Like if I have a boyfriend in the States it doesn't count?) and what I do for lunch and dinner. Thankfully that was at the very end of the bus ride and he didn't actually seal the deal and ask me out. If that were to happen I would be really screwed. First of all, I can't lie and say I have a boyfriend anymore because I already told him I don't. So I'd just have to say no, and then it would be awkward and I wouldn't ever be able to ride the bus again. Then I would really be screwed.

Of course after I get back from the US my local Monoprix starts carrying an American foods section! Using the word section is an over statement, because it's only two very small shelves. They have peanut butter, pancake mix, maple syrup, and microwave popcorn. It's right next to the Mexican section, which interestingly enough is actually bigger!

And as a lovely welcome back to France present MGEN decided to send me my carte vitale! Say goodbye to feuilles de soins and shelling out cash at the doctor's office to be reimbursed later. Hello credit card health care!

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Tonight I have a flight out of Detroit to Paris (direct! I hope the Northwest/Delta merger doesn't change that). I'm not quite as sad to leave today as I was way back in September (read: I'm not crying every five minutes). It's still really hard to leave though. When I first got home it felt so weird to be here, and now it feels so weird to be going back. And the funny thing is that I really didn't feel the need to come home at all this vacation, unlike in the fall when I was cursing the prefecture for not having my recipisse ready yet.

Renewing isn't seeming like such a good option these days.... Guess I'll just have to see how I feel at the end of another couple of months.

France here I come!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"So are you fluent in French yet?"

Last night we had my mom's family over for the first Seder, and of course everyone wants to get the details on what I'm doing in France. Do I like it, do the kids behave, wow it's so cool that you travel so much! And inevitably that question...

"So are you fluent in French yet?"

And I don't really know what to say. I suppose that to live in a foreign country and get through it with not too many misunderstandings or big language-related problems you have to have some level of fluency. I do speak French all day, every day. But I know I'm not really fluent. There are multiple words every day that I either want to use and can't because I don't know them or don't understand when someone else says them, I trip over my words, I can't communicate the way I want to because I don't have the vocab, and of course I still have problems conjugating verbs correctly! I'm going to kick the next kid who tells me etre is easier to conjugate than be. I'm embarrassed that I can't speak French well, sometimes saying things along the lines of "It will already arrived when they left." I can't tell if I'm being too hard on myself or not because I'm just a bad judge of my own skills.

I've started speaking much more quickly in French as I've gotten used to using it. For a while I thought maybe that was messing me up so I tried speaking more slowly, but that just made it worse because I was thinking about it more. The words flow more easily when I'm trying to speak the same way that I do in English. And I know I've improved since I arrived in France. I've learned new words, my comprehension is pretty good, it's a lot easier to pull old words out of the depths of my French vocab cortex. In general it's just easier to speak.

I guess fluency comes with time and of course with study. I should be studying vocab and irregular conjugations, but that's kind of annoying. On the other hand it's more annoying to not be able to participate fully in life in France because I don't understand what's going on or can't adequately participate in conversations.

Vocabulary lists here I come....

Friday, April 18, 2008


There was an earthquake in the Midwest this morning! Seriously! Apparently there's a fault line in the Missouri/Illinois area and this morning there was a 5.2 magnitude earthquake with tremors felt as far away as Atlanta. I was unfortunately awake - I'm having some trouble sleeping. On the bright side I did feel tremors, so maybe insomnia is good for something. My bed shook and I was a little confused, but then I remembered that maybe 10 or 15 years ago we had tremors here from an earthquake in the Appalachians and decided it was another one of those. I didn't feel the tremors then, so I guess I made up for it this morning.

Life in the Midwest is super exciting! Almost as exciting as Northern France!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

What do you call a kosher for Passover TV dinner? A Matzah Meal!

Other things I'm enjoying: American Idol, Law and Order repeats on alllll the time, and cheddar cheese!

I know I sound like a TV junkie, but I'm not at all. I don't have a TV in France. At home I have a few shows I watch and that's it because I'm too busy. Usually I spend my free time reading, but since I'm not supposed to be doing too much of that right now to rest my eyes, I end up watching tons of TV.

Today my mom and I went shopping for some Kosher for Passover food. Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, is the holiday that commemorates the exodus from Egypt. We aren't allowed to eat any leavened bread for eight days, no beans, no corn because our ancestors had to flee Egypt so quickly that there wasn't time for the bread dough to rise, resulting in flat cracker things called matzah. You're supposed to switch over all the dishes and everything in your house and totally clean it of any food that isn't specifically kosher for Passover. Any food that comes in must be kosher for Passover. My family is not Orthodox but we do keep kosher and every year we do all of this stuff required for Passover. Most people think it's a pain in the behind, but it's my favorite holiday! I like having a week set aside to be totally different from other weeks to remind us of the struggles and sacrifices and suffering of our ancestors and how in so many places in the world that is still going on in this day and age.

Anyway, we saw some adorable kiddie toys when we were shopping today!

Do you know your Four Questions?

Can you name the Ten Plagues? With those finger puppets or that playset, Yes You Can!

Or maybe a plush, velcro Seder plate? Except that I don't see an orange on that Seder plate....

And for the child who does not know how to ask, a Matzah Pal!

I love capitalism :)

Monday, April 14, 2008

To sue or not to sue?

A typical criticism or comment about Americans is that we like to sue. All the time. About everything, including a lot of dumb, baseless lawsuits. But is it possible that there is actually a good side to lawsuits and that citizens in other countries should become more willing to use lawsuits to protect themselves and fix things that are wrong in their country?

Safety, for example. Safety regulations are determined by law and violations can result in fines and other punishments by the government. Even more important might be the fact that any entity that violates safety regulations will also be subjected to a lawsuit resulting in a potentially multi-million dollar settlement for anyone who may have been injured as a result of their violations. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is often followed because of a fear of lawsuits or by lawsuits brought by people who can't access buildings (much to Clint Eastwood's dismay).

There is also the long tradition of social change brought about by court cases: Brown v Board of Education, which officially ended school segregation back in the 1950s and was later enforced by repeated lawsuits demanding that school districts follow the new law, Roe v Wade legalized abortion, and more recently the death penalty has been outlawed for the mentally handicapped and juveniles, among other examples.

Then I read an article in the New York Times last week about lawsuits brought against drug companies who cover up unfavorable trials or deliberately alter the results of their trials and market the drugs anyway. They deceive the FDA, doctors, and patients. Right now a case against Ortho Evra, the birth control patch, is working its way through the court system. Johnson & Johnson covered up information that showed Ortho Evra exposes women to much higher doses of estrogen than the normal pill does, resulting in sometimes fatal side effects. Drug companies and the Bush administration are promoting a doctrine called pre-emption (oh yeah, that old Bush favorite returns). Pre-emption claims that drug companies can't be sued by people who say they were injured by the drug, despite how much the company itself may have lied, because the FDA is the only entity that can decide what drugs and foods are safe for use.

Why is this so dangerous? Not only because it allows drug companies to get off scot-free for their illegal deception that ended up harming people, but also because the FDA itself is considered to be broken.
A series of independent assessments have concluded that the agency is poorly organized, scientifically deficient and short of money. In February, its commissioner, Andrew C. von Eschenbach, acknowledged that the agency faces a crisis and may not be “adequate to regulate the food and drugs of the 21st century.”

The F.D.A. does not test experimental medicines but relies on drug makers to report the results of their own tests completely and honestly. Even when companies fail to follow agency rules, officials rarely seek to penalize them. “These are scientists, not cops,” said David Vladeck, a professor at Georgetown Law School...

For years, top officials at the agency acknowledged that lawsuits could aid the agency’s oversight of safety issues...

“Our lawsuits are the ultimate check against the mistake made by the government, or fraud made by the companies against the government, or just an underfunded bureaucracy stretched thin,” [Chris Seeger, a lawyer] said.

Remember the Vioxx lawsuits? The makers of Vioxx concealed information that showed that it increased the risk of heart attacks. This has also happened with several anti-depressant medications. Can you imagine what these criminals would do if the threat of any possible punishment was taken away? They would run amok. It would be chaos.

So we've talked about several good outcomes from lawsuits in the US: causing compliance with laws, social change, "fixing mistakes made by the government," and of course old fashioned punishment for the bad guys. I know the downside of lawsuits too, don't get me wrong, I definitely think that we can get out of control with our lawsuits. But I wonder, is it possible that lawsuits could be used for good in other countries too? Perhaps in France? I don't know much about their legal system, but I do know that the Declaration des droits de l'homme (Declaration of the Rights of Man) is considered to be part and parcel of their Constitutional law, and that contains a lot of sweeping statements about what rights we are all entitled to. Can you imagine if the French started to sue based on those principles? For example, if the courts really started to examine how far personal liberty can go until it begins to harm others and must be limited? Maybe I'm just being too American in my belief that lawsuits could fix some of the problems in France, but it's at least an interesting idea.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Things I'm really enjoying right now....

1. ABC online show viewing. Best thing EVER. I've been catching up on my favorite shows - Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, and Ugly Betty. American TV is awesome!!

2. Spicy food! Salsa, spicy humus - bring on the Tums!

3. Normal milk!!!!!

4. Central heating. It snowed last night! It's all melted now, but I was nice and toasty.

5. Being with my family :)

6. My mom's cooking. My mom is an awesome cook normally, and compared to lycee food she really looks good.

7. Cars. I'm not driving right now but it's nice to be in cars. And the cars are a normal size here! They're huge! But man oh man, gas is expensive. It cost almost $50 to fill up my 15 gallon tank! No wonder we're in a recession, no one can afford life anymore. Food is more expensive too, and of course houses are being foreclosed right and left.

8. Cheap makeup. A cheap eye shadow quad at Sephora is like 12 euros (I think, maybe 16) which is $18. A Maybelline eye shadow quad at CVS is $6.50.

9. Real sports! I got to watch the NCAA Final Four and Championship games, and sometimes if I'm really lucky they even have football replays on!!! I don't know if I can last another year without football. :(

10. Looking at what people are wearing. I love that American style is so casual; it's a refreshing change from France where it's an event to get ready for a normal day. It's exhausting!

What I miss:

1. Using French on a daily basis. I've been watching the news online and reading a little from Le Monde, but it really isn't the same.

2. My kids (to clarify: students, not my offspring)

3. My couette. I love that thing. I am going to be super sad to leave it in France. I'm already sad that we're apart for three weeks, even though my bed and pillows are so much more comfy here.

What's the same:

1. The weather! Well, maybe not exactly. We've had some nice, warm days over 60, but we've also had some gray, cloudy, rainy days too.

2. Soccer is still on TV. I don't have a TV at the lycee but the rare time that I go out to a bar it's always on TV. I guess ESPN has resorted to showing soccer games now, and my brother is on spring break this week so he's watching it. That's okay, I've kind of gotten into soccer.

3. I'm still sick of French food. My mom had a brie out with dinner last night and I just watched it sit there, oozing Frenchness all over my nice American house.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I can see clearly now the rain is gone....

And I hope everyone has an a cappella version of that song on their computer. If not, I can send it to you. It's pretty fabulous.

I think the one typical thing to notice for those who come home after spending time in France is the difference in how people dress, and boy am I having fun with this one! In France everyone is always dressed up. Not in like formal evening wear, but you are always dressed to be seen. Always. So this weekend I went to Home Depot with my mom to pick up lightbulbs and wow did I see the difference! Big Nike or Addidas tennis shoes everywhere. Tennis shoes are only seen on tourists in France. It's okay to wear your cute little Pumas or Asics, but full-out athletic shoes are a big no-no. Sweatshirts on everyone, dorky jeans, just everything you coud imagine. I loved it! Not only because it was funny to see the difference, but I liked that everyone was just doing their own thing and not caring who was staring or judging. I did see this one woman who was really off her rocker though. She was wearing Nikes, of course, with tight pink camoflage capris and a bright yellow fleece. It was slightly horrifying, and I'm really not sure where she got the idea that tight pink camoflage capris are appropriate for a woman her age. But as long as she's happy I guess....

I also went to the wonder that is Target. Why this doesn't exist in France I have no idea.

Thankfully the surgery went really well and I now have nearly perfect vision in my right eye! I have been horribly nearsighted since I was seven and I can't do anything without my glasses or contacts because I just can't see without them. It's really trippy to be able to see out ofmy right eye without any other aids. I am kind of far sighted now because the artificial lens they put in can't focus the way a natural lens can so I'll need glasses for reading. But I really can't complain about that!

And wonder of wonders, the nurses and doctors were actually nice! It was refreshing and also shocking. Everything was friendly and congenial, we were talking and joking, it was such a nice change from the hospital full of Soviet droids.

Now that I've come clean about the cancer thing I'll try to not overload everyone with cancer speak. But I'm extremely comfortable talking about it, so you know, don't feel weird if it comes up again.

Monday, April 7, 2008

I've thought about this post for a long, long time. If I would write it at all, number one, and number two, what on earth I would say. I decided for sure today, for reasons I'll get to, that it's something I have to share now.

Almost four years ago, on July 6, 2004, I was diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. This is not childhood leukemia. It's most common in people over 65. It was a week before my 20th birthday, the summer before my junior year at university. I took off fall semester to get chemo, went into remission, returned to school for spring semester, was finally starting to feel like I was back into the swing of things when I relapsed - July 22, 2005. I had more chemo, but this time just chemo wasn't enough, I had to get a bone marrow transplant. My brother and sister weren't matches (they've never been helpful anyway!) but I was extremely lucky to find a donor in the national registry and had my transplant November 4, 2005 - my second birthday. I took a year and a half off from physically being at school because following my transplant I had no immune system. Point. I spent a year locked up in my house, literally, because I couldn't go anywhere for risk of infection and consequent death. But I was very lucky and recovered from my transplant and have been in remission ever since and it's pretty likely to remain that way (knock on wood).

I've struggled with a little bit of GVHD, or graft versus host disease, which is basically the opposite of what happens to kidney transplant patients. In a kidney transplant the body sometimes rejects the kidney; with a bone marrow transplant the immune system sometimes rejects the body. I was lucky that it's never been severe, which can be really, really serious, but I had to go on lots of steroids for quite some time (and am still on low doses) and I still take about 11 different prescription medications. But overall, things are good, and you know, can't complain if this is what it takes to keep me alive.

Hopefully this explains a bit some of my concern earlier this year with medical issues. I had a recurrence of the GVHD in the fall and needed to get a treatment for it, resulting in a lot of stress and misery caused by the miserable people at that horrible hospital. Ironically the people who were the nicest to me during that whole experience were the insurance reps and the administration at the hospital. Guess the doctors and nurses haven't had their compassion training classes yet....

So, because of all of the treatments I've had, mainly radiation and steroids, I've developed cataracts at the ripe old age of 23 and decided to come home during my April break to have surgery done, rather than running off on another adventure around Europe. It's just something that has to be taken care of, and honestly the cataracts are so annoying and such an impediment to my daily life that I am really glad I'm home to get them taken care of. Unfortunately having my medical issues screw up my plans is something I've gotten used to over the past almost four years (has it really been that long?) and somthing that will continue for the rest of my life. But at least I have a life to live.

Why am I sharing this? First and foremost because this is one of the biggest components of my life. Not talking about the fact that I had cancer is like not talking about my family or my job in France. It continues to touch every aspect of my daily life. Yes, in the mundane, physical ways like taking all my meds, but also in the way I look at life and the way I relate to the people around me. I am different from nearly every other person around my age out there, and I think that is part of my problem being friends with the other assistnats. It's that integral to my life; not sharing it feels like lying, and I hate lying. Secondly because it would be awkward otherwise to explain that I came home for break. Reference above about lying.

I'll give you an example that I think sums up perfectly the difference between me and everyone else. The group in Chauny are all friends with this group of people who own or work at the only bar in town. One weekend I was there they took all of us out to a club after the bar closed. I was sitting in this club in Hicksville France at 3 AM, tired and crabby and thinking about how dumb it was to go and what a waste of my time it was. And I said that to one of my friends, I said "this is a waste of time." She responded "That's okay, I have time to waste." I don't have time to waste. I don't have the luxury of being able to waste my life because I have been given this incredibly precious gift of a second chance at life. Every minute that I waste that gift shows that I am unworthy of it. Every second I waste is a second that should be given back to one of my friends who didn't make it through transplant, who couldn't beat the cancer beast in the end. Call it a new perspective on life, call it survivor's guilt, call it whatever you want, it's the way my life works now.

Was I crazy to come to France with all of this medical ridiculousness? I've realized that the answer is yes, I probably should not have come. I think my experiences have sufficiently prooved that to me. But I wanted so much to have some great adventure, to not have my international experience totally ripped away from me, to not be left behind by all of my friends. I couldn't study abroad because of cancer, I missed out on my senior year because of cancer, I got steroid fat because of cancer.... the list goes on. And whle cancer has taken away so many of these things from me it has also given me a lot. I am much less stressed out than I was, my priorities are in the right order, and I've met and befriended and lost amazing people. I changed my career path entirely (that is a long post for another day) and I think that as a result of cancer I will be a better person and do a lot more good in the world than I otherwise would have.

So now I'm at the end of this post and I'm still not exactly sure what I set out to accomplish in writing it or if I even communicated anything. And it's weird that I happened to post this the same day that a huge blogging world story was posted. I flew home on Friday and since then have been enjoying adjusting to a new time zone with my family. I had my pre-op visit today and will have my right eye operated on tomorrow, followed by the left one next week provided all goes well, and will spend an extra week at home recovering from both surgeries. The third week also happens to be Passover and I'm really happy that I can spend hte holiday with my family.

You know what else is weird? It looks a lot more like spring in France than it does in Michigan. THings are getting green in France and blooming, and here it's still all grey and winter-like. Not at all what I expected!

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Not with any French men, but with French women! Dare I say that I may have finally found French friends? And not just any French friends, but that elusive French female friend?

The soirée célibataire (singles night) was a total bust, there wasn't even one at the bar! D had been lied to when whe called to double check. That was better for me because I was actually kind of terrified of a singles night. I just didn't really feel like labelling myself as being single or looking for a relationship. I feel vulnerable enough as it is because of my accent; it's very obvious that I'm not actually French, and I think being marked liked that is potentially not so safe. Besides, who am I really going to meet in a tiny French town? Finding an intelligent, ambitious, educated guy around my age in a town of 30,000 is not so likely.

Anyway, I had a really fun time just hanging out with my coworkers, D and F. There were definitely some tough times understanding everything, especially because they are already friends with each other and I was sort of out of the loop about whatever they were talking about. But it worked, and I think I came off well. So well in fact that we thought about going out again tonight, but decided not to because we're all busy and tired. But D said we should definitely go out after vacation. Score!!! And because I actually see both of them twice a week at work I think this is really going to happen, unlike all the other times when you meet someone, exchange numbers, make tentative plans to do something, and then it never happens. I'm quite pleased.

Today was present day in my classes for the kids who had behaved well. There were lots of kids who wanted to know why they didn't get a cadeau. Reflechis un peu you little blabbermouth. Do you really think you behaved well enough to deserve a present? Yeah, didn't think so. No super cool pencil from America for you!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Wish me luck....

.... it's the soirée célibataire tonight!

And it's my baby brother's birthday! He's eighteen! He can vote! He can buy porn! He has to register for the draft! Happy Birthday Mike!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mont Saint Michel = Fab!

I had a wonderful time on my trip this past weekend. First of all, it was amazing to be in a car! I didn't realize that it was possible to miss being in a car, but the minute I got in I just felt so at home. Cue jokes about me being from Michigan. I road-tripped it out there with three assistants from another town in my académie, about five hours each way. Not bad at all, considering the fact that it was 14 hours to drive to my college!

On the way up we stopped to see the falaises (cliffs) at Etretat. Here's a picture from the web:

The weather was kind of ridic. It started off nice enough, and I was wearing a light jacket. Then it got cold and the wind became insanely strong, like I feltI was going to be blown off the top of the cliffs! The highlight of the visit was stopping to dip our toes in Le Manche (the English Channel) after coming back down. The beach was rocky and hurt our feet, the water was freeeeezing, and the rapidly rising tide ended up soaking my shoes! Luckily I had brought another pair, and some extra socks. Beaucoup de fun, quand meme!

We arrived at Mont Saint Michel late in the afternoon, in time to walk on the mud flats/sand around the island itself and hike around a little bit in the city on the way to the abbey. Mont Saint Michel is built on a big rock that is an island at high tide and surrounded by sand at low tide. An abbey was built there, dedicated to the Archangel Michael, and not only is a beautiful site, it also served as a symbol of French independence and nationalism during the Hundred Years War when a large chunk of France was conquered by the English. We got dinner at a cheaper version of the famous Mère Poulard restaurant, so I did get to have the weird omelette. Really, it's weird. It's cooked egg around a bunch of foam. Our waiter was a kind of funny, flirty guy. He gave us a hard time when we asked for things like ketchup or more water, shoved plates in front of my face as he was walking by, played "guess who?" with me, and, highlight of dinner, poked me in the ribs from behind. Now, I'm not only very ticklish, but I have a very strong startle reflex. So what did I do? I shrieked. In a restaurant. Full of people. I don't remember the last time I was that embarrassed. I really just wanted to crawl under the table. Word to the wise: don't ever go anywhere with me!

Anyway, the next day we actually visited the abbey itself. It was pouring rain, but inside the abbey it was nice and dry. We did the 2 hour visite conferencier, which I highly, highly recommend, especially if you are interested in history and art history, but also because you get to see all the crypts and Notre Dame sous Terre that you can't see on the normal tour or walking around by yourself. Our guide was great. He was obviously very knowledgeable and passionate about the subject matter, to the point that our tour ran over by about 45 minutes! The "merveille," the cloister area, really is a marvel. It's just superbly, beautifully done. The cloister itself, for example:

This picture doesn't really do it justice. I'm not on wireless, so I can't upload my own pictures yet. The guided tour was entirely in French, and I was surprised and really happy to find that I understood just about everything! The guide was speaking very quickly and using lots of dates, and even so I could follow along really well. I was really proud of myself, and it was nice to see how far my French has come in the past few months. All in all, a very successful trip. I highly recommend visiting Mont Saint Michel if you get a chance!

Weird French teaching thing for the day: we had a birthday party in one of my classes before English today (the monster class, of course). The teacher yelled at the kids to stop making so much noise. During a birthday party!!!!!! They weren't even being that loud!